about which I've spoken before. I was a big fan of these books in my early teen years, in part because they allowed me to "play" on occasions where I was unable to get together with my friends as I usually did. Ultimately, though, what kept me reading them was that they were extremely well done, both in terms of the fantastic world they presented and the challenge they presented. Achieving victory in the better Fighting Fantasy books was a difficult proposition, even assuming you rolled well against the many opponents and obstacles you'd have to face in the course of your adventure -- and The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was definitely one of the better books in the series.
The basic premise of the book is simple. The reader is an adventurer on a quest for a treasure hidden deep within the caverns and dungeons of Firetop Mountain. The mountain is populated by all manner of fearsome beasts, living and undead. It's also the home of the Warlock, too, a dark magician who's none too eager to have the treasure stolen from him. To that end, it's well guarded within a chest possessing a double lock. Finding the two keys needed to open the lock is thus as important as finding the location of the treasure itself. Naturally, the keys are guarded by some of the deadliest creatures in Firetop Mountain and there are numerous false keys scattered about as well, making it hard to determine whether one has truly found those needed to complete the quest.
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, were it a printed adventure module, would most assuredly be called "old school." Not only is the place very deadly, with several opportunities for instant death (forget "save or die"), but the structure of some of its puzzles (like figuring out which keys are the real ones) more or less necessitate meta-gaming. That is, you might have to fail several times in your quest and then start over, using the knowledge gained from previous attempts to succeed on your next try. Personally, I never minded this, as it kept me interested in the book, determined to "beat" it, but some might find it "immersion breaking." The same might be said of the dungeons and caverns of Firetop Mountain, which definitely veer more toward the "funhouse" end of the spectrum than they do toward anything more naturalistic.
I owned the American version of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, which featured the Richard Corben cover pictured here. The interior illustrations, though, were those of Russ Nicholson, just as in the UK original. I cannot tell you how profoundly the illustrations in this book affected me as a young person. I was familiar with Nicholson's work from the Fiend Folio, of course, but, for some reason, perhaps my ambivalent opinion of that manual of monsters, his work on Fighting Fantasy made a much stronger impression. The combination of the artwork, the world it conveyed, and the real difficulty in concluding the book successfully -- oh, how I loathed the maze section -- all combined to hook me on Fighting Fantasy. I picked every other volume I could get my hands on and was so enamored of the format that I even tried my hand at other gamebooks, some of which I'll talk about in the days to come.